Hot on the heels of last week’s Great British Bake Off (GBBO) Baguette challenge came the news from Paris that it is actually very difficult to lay your hands on a genuine French baguette this summer. 

In the aftermath of the French Revolution, bakers were heavily regulated, bread prices were fixed until only a few years ago. Even the holiday periods for bakeries were subject to officialdom. This year, for the first time, bakers could choose when to go on their summer break and this led to more bakeries closing all at once, leading to bread shortages!

Meanwhile the bakers on GBBO were going through a dessert round: crème brûlée, Spanische Windtorte and baked cheesecake.

For the first round, Mary insisted that the caramel be made under a grill, not with a blow torch. My current favourite, Ian, did come up with the clever idea of making a caramel first, then whizzing it up into a powder. This meant his crème brûlée had a head start in terms of caramelisation and thus produced a very even look under the grill.

The technical challenge called for was a Viennese concoction with the surprisingly un-Austrian name ‘Spanische Windtorte’. Dobos, Esterhazy and Sacher are the ‘Torten’ specialities that easily roll off the tongue. For sure, these days you are more likely to find a cupcake in Vienna than this baroque-influenced decadence!

During the 16th century the first cake bakers arrived in Vienna within the entourage of Spanish-born King Ferdinand. Spain was then under the influence of Arab culture and it was the Arabs who managed to cultivate sugarcane and extract its sweet juice. From there it was a few more centuries to the cultivation of sugar beets – and with that the party really started.

By 1840 Vienna was in the full swing of a very sugary culinary period indeed, with the famous and still existing Zuckerbäckerei Demel leading the way. It’s not surprising that the earliest reference and recipe I could muster for the Windtorte dated back to that time.

Windmasse is actually the Austrian word for meringue and has nothing to do with ‘giving you wind’! I do have a recipe for a tart that gives you the latter – it’s an autumnal speciality from Baden/Alsace, best enjoyed with a glass of fermenting new wine... Mel & Sue would have a great time. I’m waiting for Mary & Paul’s call should they wish to set that one up as a future challenge.

To master the two different meringue techniques (French/cold – Swiss-warm) was challenging, and prison governor Paul proved a dab hand with his whisk and violets.

The cheesecake challenge rounded off proceedings in round four. Of particular note was the influence of herbs in the recipes, something that would no doubt have pleased the sweet alchemists of Vienna.